MIDDLEBURY — Kori and Kathleen Martell of Middlebury deal with a daily shopping dilemma when it comes to buying food for themselves and their baby daughter.
“It’s easier to buy the junk food than the healthy food,” Kathleen Martell said on Thursday while cradling her daughter Dianna at the Addison County Parent-Child Center. “Junk food is less expensive.”
The Parent-Child Center has started a new project in its own backyard designed to make healthy vegetables more accessible to young families with limited means, like the Martells. It’s a new greenhouse, now under construction, that will teach young parents how to better balance their meals and do it cheaply on their own.
Deirdre Kelly, education director at the Parent-Child Center, coordinates programs designed to help young clients further their studies and become the best parents they can be. It was during a learning session last year that several young parents voiced a desire to eat more healthy foods and they proposed a greenhouse as a means of achieving that goal, according to Kelly.
“Last fall, we were looking at food systems — an amazing blanket for learning,” Kelly said. “You can learn science, math, history, nutrition and ‘How do I feed my own family and do it on a budget?’”
The conversation veered toward what the Parent-Child Center might be able to do in assisting its clients achieve their nutrition goals — such as access to healthy foods. The center serves lunches to around 90 staff, clients and young children each day.
It has maintained a small outdoor garden for several years, but the plot has yielded a limited harvest during the months during which the Parent-Child Center is in operation.
“The challenge has been Vermont’s growing season, which explodes during the summer, like all of our home gardens,” Kelly said. “So we started thinking about greenhouses.”
Center staff and parents visited surrounding farms to check out their greenhouses, which allow for an extended growing season. Officials identified a spot for a modest greenhouse on Parent-Child Center land off Monroe Street in Middlebury. They successfully applied for a $13,000 grant through the Canady Family Trust to pay for construction of a greenhouse and related gardening supplies. They contacted Jonathan Hescock of Cornwall-based Vermont Victory Greenhouses, who expertly took charge of the worksite. Thursday saw Hescock and some Parent-Child Center clients framing what will be a 16-foot-by-20-foot greenhouse building in which vegetable seeds will be planted later this month.
Kelly said salad greens will be the staple produce of the new greenhouse. The Parent-Child Center includes salad in its lunch menu each day, so the intent will be to have the greenhouse fulfill as much of the center’s greens needs as possible.
Along with sustenance, the greenhouse should serve as a nice learning tool. Parents participated in compiling the permit application for the new structure. They are having a hand in its construction, will tend and harvest the produce grown in it and will have an opportunity to sell some of the plants in the future to generate money for future greenhouse operating costs. The young children at the center will all get a first-hand glimpse at the cultivation of vegetables and learn about good nutrition at an early age.
“It is a chance for them to be directly involved in growing things,” Hescock said. “They can make a connection with the food they are eating.”
Surplus food, Kelly said, will be donated to local food shelves. This will be an important and symbolic way for many of the young parents to give back to the charitable organizations that they themselves have had to tap in their quest for self sufficiency.
Hescock on Thursday estimated the Parent-Child Center greenhouse was about one-third completed. The concrete floor had been poured, the framing was largely up. Next will come the sidewalls, roof, glazing and painting.
Martell promised to be among those completing and tending the new greenhouse.
“It’s nice,” she said. “The Parent-Child Center will have its own local vegetables.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]